One of the New York Giants rookies, Corey Ballentine, has overcome the toughest of challenges. His next one: playing cornerback in the NFL.
Corey Ballentine has endured uphill battles the very moment he decided football was one of his goals in life. But as strong youngsters go, this one treats uphill battles like a walk in the park.
Of all the New York Giants rookies, Ballentine’s story is surely the most unique.
Coming Out of High School
Ballentine started off as a no-star recruit on all recruiting platforms (247Sports, Rivals, etc.). He had essentially no scout looks, and his football career, at the time, was looking pretty bleak. The Kansas native had no Division I offers. At this point, most prospects would look to go the FCS route, but Ballentine received no offers there as well.
So the only option for Ballentine (if he wished to pursue his football career) was to go to the only school that gave him an offer, Washburn University. It was just eight miles from his hometown of Tecumseh, Kansas. However, Washburn was a Division II school. The school was by no means a big name. In fact, they had only three players ever drafted to NFL in the Super Bowl Era.
Ballentine entered school with a lot to learn. He wasn’t a big name on campus, even at his small school. At Washburn, he would still have to fight for every rep he received. In doing this, Ballentine took a growth year and redshirted his freshman season.
Then, the following year he saw his first opportunity of playing time, on special teams. While this was not a starting job, Ballentine made his first attempts to show his abilities at the college level. He recorded 17 total tackles and seven solo tackles that year while appearing in all 11 games.
Sophomore and Junior Year
The next season Ballentine really came into his own as a player. he finished third on the team with 43 tackles (65 total). He also tacked on 6.5 tackles for loss. If this wasn’t enough for a great sophomore year, he also broke the school record in the 100-meter sprint with a time of 10.51 seconds.
Ballentine took this momentum into his junior year. He earned himself a permanent role at cornerback, starting all 12 games. He recorded 54 total tackles that year earning himself second-team all-MIAA nomination as a defensive back. However, he could not settle for one all-MIAA nomination as he was first-team all-MIAA as a kick returner. He averaged 30.6 yards per return making him fifth in the nation in this category.
Ballentine also continued his track to stardom by recording eight of the top 10 fastest times in the 100-meter dash and the six fastest times in the 200-meter dash. While doing all this, he maintained his good grades, helping him earn his third straight year of MIAA Academic Honor Roll.
Ballentine’s senior year was arguably his best as he blew up as a starting corner. This was the year that all of his accolades began to start overflowing. He earned his third straight 50-plus tackle season. Ballentine also was selected first-team all-MIAA at defensive back and third-team at return specialist.
The speedy defensive back was also named a second-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association. To top it off, Corey Ballentine was named the Cliff Harris Award (small college defensive player of the year) winner. Not to mention, he continued his academic excellence with his fourth straight year of MIAA Academic Honor Roll.
This fantastic year ended his Washburn career with 46 total games, 186 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five interceptions, and four forced fumbles. It was an amazing career that made him go down as one of the best players to ever play at Washburn. Coming from a one-offer kid, that was incredible.
Unfortunately for Ballentine, his electric college career was not enough to make him a top prospect (or a qualifying prospect for that matter). He had a long way to go if he was going to achieve his dream of being drafted.
To start this process, Ballentine was fortunate enough to have earned himself a trip to the Senior Bowl—one of three Division II players. However, a trip was not enough as other top prospects would be in attendance. Ballentine would really have to stand out with his play to get noticed, and he did exactly that.
Corey Ballentine earned himself a starting job at the Senior Bowl and helped his North All-Stars team secure the win. He recorded a team-high five tackles while also putting NFL scouts on notice. This helped him earn his way to the 2019 NFL Combine.
NFL Combine and Draft
At the combine, Ballentine put on a strong display of his talents that helped his draft stock. He gave great interviews, showing intelligence and great character. His athletic measurables were also great as he showcased his elite speed (4.47 40-yard dash) and jumping ability (39.5-inch vertical leap). Ballentine’s frame also impressed teams as scouts said, “[his] arms dangle down like ivy vines from his frame.”
This helped the Washburn graduate earn a fourth-round grade by many platforms. Ballentine’s only real weaknesses were his room for growth and his acclimation to NFL talent. However, these weaknesses—otherwise known as small school syndrome—allowed for Ballentine to drop into the sixth round of the draft. There, he was selected with the 180th pick by the New York Giants. This was the earliest selection of a Washburn player in NFL (modern era) history.
Even with a two-round drop, Ballentine was ecstatic. He expressed his gratitude to Giants’ head coach Pat Shurmur by saying, “I’ve been waiting on this opportunity for a lifetime, really.”
Sadly, Ballentine’s happiness was short-lived as he and his best friend (Dwayne Simmons) were shot later that day. It was the worst moment of his life as he witnessed his closest friend die.
“I think about it every day,” Ballentine said via Jordan Raanan of ESPN. “It’s hard. Earlier on, I was a little paranoid, but now that I’m out here in New York, I’ve got a lot of support from the organization.”
The only silver lining of these tragic events was that Ballentine himself was not seriously injured. He was shot in the glutes, a place with a lot of muscle and no organs, which allowed him to make a full recovery.
Even with this, Ballentine was forced to miss rookie mini-camp, immediately putting him behind the eight-ball.
Training camp has arrived and Ballentine once again has a tough road ahead of him. He was destined to be an NFL special-teams player, at best. But this did not stop him from overachieving once more. He did this by starting off training campy with a bang.
On Thursday, July 25, Ballentine made his presence felt with his first interception on a Daniel Jones-thrown ball. This was a good bounce-back for Ballentine after the tragic event.
“It took him a little while to get going because of the accident he was involved with. But he’s made steady improvement,” Shurmur said via John Healy of SNY. “He’s a very competitive guy, he gets his hands on balls, he has good instincts, he’s working as a returner, and we feel like he’s getting a little bit better every day.”
On Saturday, July 27, Ballentine continued to get his hands on the ball as he picked off JJones again, this time returning it to the house. The only two interceptions for the rookie quarterback came at the hands of Ballentine. The cornerback continued to work on his game throughout training camp as he also recorded several pass breakups and other great plays.
Finally, on Aug. 5, it was reported, by Art Stapleton of The Record, that Ballentine was now receiving his first reps with the ones. He was playing the starting slot alongside Janoris Jenkins and DeAndre Baker. While this came at a time where Julian Love was playing free safety, and Grant Haley and Sam Beal were sidelined with injuries, it was still quite an accomplishment from the sixth-round draft pick.
He is really taking advantage of the opportunity presented to him. There’s no looking back. As a starter, Ballentine had a solid outing, even recording one pass deflection on a ball thrown to Sterling Shepard.
While first-team reps and playing cornerback in an NFL regular-season game are very far apart, this is some great action for the rookie. After such a tough start to his career, it is nice to see the kid succeed. He will now have the opportunity to continue paving his path for success as the Giants play their first preseason game on Thursday, Aug. 8.